Gulf of Guinea Piracy
Expected Council Action
In November, the Security Council is expected to hold a briefing on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea to consider the Secretary-General’s report on Gulf of Guinea piracy pursuant to resolution 2634 of 31 May. Representatives of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the Gulf of Guinea Commission, and civil society are expected to brief.
Background and Recent Developments
In recent years, the Gulf of Guinea has been labelled the world’s ‘hotspot’ for piracy. In 2020, over forty percent of reported piracy incidents occurred in the Gulf of Guinea (81 incidents out of 195 globally), according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB). Moreover, since 2019 the Gulf of Guinea has experienced an unprecedented rise in the number of crew kidnappings. In 2020, 130 crew members were kidnapped in 22 separate incidents, accounting for over 95% of the world’s kidnapped seafarers. A December 2021 study by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the non-profit Stable Seas estimated that ransom payments to Gulf of Guinea pirate gangs generated approximately $5 million annually. Especially significant, according to the study, were piracy’s effects on trade, with direct and indirect costs estimated at $1.925 billion annually for twelve Gulf of Guinea countries.
The situation has shown possible signs of improvement. Piracy incidents in the Gulf of Guinea declined from 81 in 2020 to 34 in 2021. Kidnappings also fell to 57 last year, though the Gulf of Guinea nonetheless accounted for all kidnappings at sea worldwide in 2021. The IMB attributed the improvement to the increased presence of international naval vessels and cooperation with regional authorities. In the first six months of 2022, there were 12 reported piracy incidents in the Gulf of Guinea and no crew kidnappings. Despite the declining incidents, the IMB has cautioned that the threat in the Gulf of Guinea remains, highlighting an incident in early April of a Panamax bulk carrier that was attacked and boarded by pirates 260 nautical miles off the coast of Ghana. The ship and crew were saved by an Italian navy warship and its helicopter that quickly intervened after regional authorities and international warships were alerted to the situation.
The threat of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea prompted Ghana and Norway to initiate negotiations this past January on a Council resolution on the issue, seeking to renew attention to and mobilise greater support for regional and national efforts to tackle the challenge. Prior to the adoption of resolution 2634 on 31 May, more than ten years had passed since the Council’s last resolution on Gulf of Guinea piracy, resolution 2039 of 29 February 2012. It has also been nearly six years since the Council’s last dedicated meeting on this subject in April 2016.
Resolution 2634 expresses the Council’s deep concern about the “grave and persistent threat” posed by piracy, armed robbery and transnational organised crime in the Gulf of Guinea to international navigation, security and the sustainable development of regional states. The resolution called on states in the region to criminalise and prosecute acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea under their domestic laws, and emphasised the need to enhance and support national, regional, and international efforts to counter piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea. It further requested a Secretary-General’s report on Gulf of Guinea piracy within five months, including analysis on any possible and potential linkages with terrorism in West and Central Africa and the Sahel. The report should be issued by 31 October, ahead of next month’s meeting.
The “Yaoundé Code of Conduct”, signed by 25 West and Central African countries at the heads of state summit in 2013, is the main maritime security architecture to address the problem of piracy in the region. Regional centres have been established through this framework for information sharing and pooling resources, though funding has been a persistent problem in operationalising the framework. These centres include the Interregional Coordination Centre (ICC) in Yaoundé, Cameroon; the Regional Centre for Maritime Security of West Africa (CRESMAO) in Abidjan, Ivory Coast; and the Regional Centre for Maritime Security of Central Africa (CRESMAC) in Pointe-Noire, Congo. Multinational Maritime Coordination Centres (MMCCs) or zonal centres have also been set up, including in Douala, covering Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Cameroon; Cotonou, covering Nigeria, Benin, and Togo; and Accra, covering Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Plans also exist for MMCCs in Luanda, covering Angola, Congo, and DRC and in Praia, covering Guinea Bissau, Senegal, The Gambia and Cape Verde.
Other more recent initiatives include Nigeria’s Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure, also known as the Deep Blue Project, which was launched in June 2021. The country has invested $195 million towards vessels, maritime domain awareness platforms, and land and sea assets, which includes a maritime security unit made up of 600 specially trained troops. Several non-regional countries have also increased the deployment of naval vessels to conduct anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Guinea, including Denmark and the UK in October 2021.
Key Issues and Options
One key issue is the need to maintain attention to Gulf of Guinea piracy. The session will provide an opportunity to do so. There is concern that the recent decline in piracy incidents could be reversed without sustained engagement. Related to this is the need to build momentum for expected events next year to recognise the ten-year anniversary of the Yaoundé Architecture. In this regard, considering how to support regional initiatives financially and logistically will also be a key issue.
Another major issue is assessing the possible links between Sahel-based terrorist groups and Gulf of Guinea pirates. Former Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Office of West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) Mahamat Saleh Annadif, briefing the Council in July 2021, asserted in reference to piracy in the Gulf of Guinea that the “risks of a confluence between the threat coming from the sea and that coming from the Sahel are real”. Addressing the socioeconomic challenges in Gulf of Guinea countries that contribute to piracy is also a critical issue.
Possible Council follow-up action is likely to depend on the recommendations made in the forthcoming Secretary-General’s report. Members could issue a press statement that welcomes recent progress towards tackling Gulf of Guinea piracy, reiterates calls for regional states to criminalise and prosecute acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea under their domestic laws, and stresses the importance of sustained and enhanced national, regional and international efforts and cooperation.
The issue of countering piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is important for Ghana, and was one of the priorities of its president, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo during his recently concluded chairmanship of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Council members Brazil, France, Gabon, Ghana, India, Norway, the UK, and the US are members of the G7++ Group of Friends of the Gulf of Guinea (FOGG), which supports the implementation of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct.
Negotiations on resolution 2634 were drawn out, but not because of notable differences between members over how to address Gulf of Guinea piracy. Instead, the main dispute was over how to refer to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Over the past year, the UNCLOS has become a sensitive issue during discussions related to maritime security, which stems from China’s claims in the South China Sea. In negotiations on resolution 2634, China sought language providing a narrower interpretation of UNCLOS’ jurisdiction and universality than was acceptable to most members. Eventually, after five months, an agreement on the text was reached. China initiated the Council’s last meeting on Gulf of Guinea piracy in April 2016, when the Council adopted a presidential statement on the issue.
Ghana and Norway were co-penholders on resolution 2634.
UN DOCUMENTS ON GULF OF GUINEA PIRACY
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|31 May 2022S/RES/2634||This resolution was on piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea.|
|29 February 2012S/RES/2039||Welcomed the Secretary-General’s assessment mission on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and called on states to implement its recommendations.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|26 April 2016S/PRST/2016/4||This was a presidential statement which encouraged regional states, regional organisations and international partners to make fully operational the Gulf of Guinea counter-piracy mechanisms as soon as possible.|
|14 August 2013S/PRST/2013/13||This presidential statement regarding piracy in the Gulf of Guinea welcomed the summit on maritime safety and security and stressed the importance of regional coordination for counter-piracy efforts.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|31 May 2022S/PV.9050||This contained the explanation of votes on resolution 2634 on Gulf of Guinea piracy.|
|25 April 2016S/PV.7675||This was an open debate on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.|
|Security Council Letter|
|12 August 2022S/2021/722||This letter contained the record of briefing and statements from a August videoconference open debate on maritime security.|